Tasaka Guri-Guri celebrates 40 years at the Maui Mall

Tasaka Guri-Guri celebrates its 40th anniversary today at the Maui Mall by offering 40-cent scoops of its renowned cold guri-guri treat.

Normally, scoops of strawberry or pineapple flavors sell for 60 cents, but today’s offering is 1 cent for each year the snack shop has been at the Kahului mall, said Cindy Tasaka-Ing, who runs the fourth-generation, family-owned business with her sister, Gail Saito.

Tasaka-Ing said that she didn’t know what kind of turnout the snack shop will get today.

But, “I’m thinking it might be busy,” she said Friday.

That could be likely, especially since Tasaka Guri-Guri has been closed “Japanese style” for the first three days of the new year, she said. Now, residents and visitors alike can get their fix of guri-guri, which derives its name from the way a Japanese speaker would say the English words “goodie goodie” or simply “something good.”

The snack shop also sells chips, soda and hot dogs, but guri-guri is the star attraction, Tasaka-Ing said.

While the business has been at the mall for four decades, its history goes back nearly 100 years to when Tasaka-Ing’s great-grandfather, Jokichi Tasaka, started Tasaka Confectionary Store near the railroad tracks and among the first stores established in the area that’s now the Kahului Shopping Center.

Jokichi Tasaka sold sendi, or Japanese fortune cookies; bean candies; and mochi, Tasaka-Ing said.

Her grandfather, Gunji Tasaka, concocted the still-secret recipe for guri-guri, which she said is like homemade ice cream. But it’s technically not ice cream, because it has a higher butterfat content.

Gunji’s sons, Setsuo and Henry Tasaka, continued the business and kept the recipe secret until retiring and passing the business on to Henry Tasaka’s daughters, Cindy and Gail, who live in Wailuku and Kahului, respectively.

The sweet treat has been compared to Italian gelato and to sherbet, she said.

Guri-guri comes in two flavors, strawberry and pineapple, with strawberry being customers’ favorite by far, she said.

On average, a few family workers make 40 to 50 gallons of guri-guri per day, she said. But there are seasons for guri-guri, with busy times coming in warmer months and when school’s not in session. January through March are typically slower months for sales, she said.

Most days, the business is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Fridays, hours change to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sundays it’s open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Guri-guri also is sold in quarts, with $5.50 per quart for residents who will refrigerate it soon and $6 per quart for those traveling off island. The travel guri-guri is sold in 2-quart amounts, and it’s more frozen and wrapped in newspaper and foil for travel, Tasaka-Ing said.

On-the-spot eating is served in cups with two to five scoops, she said.

“It’s a very small operation,” Tasaka-Ing said. Aside from herself and her sister, workers include cousin Kelly Kohatsu; family friend Alisha Wilsey; and uncles Calvin Inouye and Tony Wilsey. (The uncles typically help out on Sundays to give a day off to regular workers.)

One of the highlights of the 40 years at the mall came in 2002 when former President Bill Clinton stopped by the shop for guri-guri when he was on Maui for a Democratic rally.

Secret service agents checked out the shop before the former president came in, Tasaka-Ing said.

When Clinton was handed his treat, “he took it, ate it and came back and took pictures,” she said.

One of those pictures still hangs in the shop.

“He shook everybody’s hand,” she recalled.

There have been offers from competitors to buy the guri-guri recipe, she said.

“People try, but we say no,” she said.

And others have tried to imitate the sweet treat, but there’s only one Tasaka guri-guri.

“I hope so,” she said.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.